Head

Black carved, painted wood sculpture of a human head, long neck
CC0 Public Domain Designation

Image actions

  • Black carved, painted wood sculpture of a human head, long neck

Date:

Mid–/late 19th century

Artist:

Fang
Gabon
Central Africa

About this artwork

Communion with the ancestral dead is an important focus of art and ritual for the Fang people of southern Cameroon and northern Gabon. This large, beautiful head was made to sit with its neck inserted into the lid of a bark reliquary box that held the selected remains, most often skull fragments, of an honored ancestor. Kept in a dark corner of a man’s sleeping room, the head and box protected the remains and embodied the deceased, keeping his or her force available to the living. This reliquary head’s almond-shaped eyes were embellished with copper-alloy inserts, one now missing, that would have reflected light in a startling manner, adding to the work’s mysterious aura. The wide-eyed stare also lends a childlike quality to the ancestral likeness that would have been appreciated by the Fang. Within their worldview, the balance of opposing elements—infant and ancestor, birth and death—is considered a fundamental aspect of human existence. The sleek and refined features of this sculpture, including a high domed forehead, a jutting chin, and an elongated nose that is visually balanced by a plaited coiffure, highlight classic qualities of Fang abstraction that likewise embody opposition. These stylistic elements had a strong influence on the work of early twentieth-century artists such as Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso.

Currently Off View

Arts of Africa

Artist

Fang

Title

Head

Origin

Gabon

Date

1850–1899

Medium

Wood and copper

Dimensions

H. 39.4 cm (15 1/2 in.)

Credit Line

Frederick W. Renshaw Acquisition Fund; Robert Allerton and Ada Turnbull Hertle endowments; Robert Allerton Income Fund; Gladys N. Anderson Endowment

Reference Number

2006.127

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email .

Share

Sign up for our enewsletter to receive updates.

Learn more

Image actions

Share